ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — Thursday night’s meeting of the Attleboro City Council continued well past midnight and ended with a final vote to pass a controversial new budget.
The $125 million spending plan, proposed by Mayor Kevin Dumas, aims to partially close a $4 million school department budget gap and a $2 million city budget gap by laying off 42 school employees and 12 other city employees. The proposal has received a lot of pushback from city residents.
The budget passed around 1 a.m. Friday with a nearly split 6 to 5 vote.
The school department faces a roughly $1 million budget shortfall and Thursday night the council worked to try and amend the budget to put money back in the general fund to try and narrow the gap, however the mayor gets the final say on where that money will go.
Council members found that extra money through some voluntary salary cuts for themselves, though not all of the members volunteered. The cuts would have included the mayor’s salary, who makes six figures, along with the city councilors’ approximately $7,000 yearly stipend.
After a contentious debate, the council declined to make the blanket cut but did vote to cut the salaries of four city councilors who offered: Councilors Jeremy Denlea, Heather Porreca and Sara Lynn Reynolds offered to cut their salaries by 20%, and Councilor Mark Cooper donated his entire take-home pay to the cause. Seven councilors kept their full salaries.
The council also slashed the budget for city workers’ cellphones from $27,000 to $5,000.
The council also voted to eliminate a $50,000 constituent services salary, saying council members could do the job themselves.
The school employees being laid off are mostly teachers, according to Council President Frank Cook, but it will be up the school department to decide exactly who gets laid off. Teachers were informed in April to prepare to possibly lose their jobs.
“That is irresponsible, that is reckless, and that’s not something I will support,” said City Council Vice President Jeremy Denlea. He said the city could have cut spending with a pay freeze in order to bridge the budget gap.
“No one would be happy about it,” Denlea said. “Everyone would be discontent, but everyone would have their jobs.”
Council President Cook said contractual obligations with city workers prevented the city from cancelling their annual pay raises. He pledged to try and fix the school funding formula that caused the budget deficit, but said he would vote in favor of the budget as-is.
“There’s only so much money, and the pie’s only so big,” Cook said. “As a city we need to continue to be looking everywhere to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck.”
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